The famous Hans Christian Andersen fairytale The Little Mermaid was immortalized in Disney’s famous 1989 film of the same name. As Disney adapted the property, however, many of the story’s finer points were changed to become more kid-friendly. For instance, in the original fairytale, Ariel turned into seafoam because the Prince fell in love with someone else. That isn’t the worst part that was changed. Like the Disney version of The Little Mermaid, Studio Ghibli’s crack at the story also changed many things. Ponyo, the story of a little goldfish who falls in love with a human boy, makes The Little Mermaid story even more childish. The film still manages to be a quintessential Hayao Miyazaki film with commentary on environmental protection with Japanese fantasy elements.
As previously stated, Ponyo is a goldfish who makes a trip to land against the wishes of her controlling, xenophobic father, Fujimoto, a sorcerer who keeps the sea and Mother Nature in balance. Ponyo is caught by a little five-year-old boy named Sosuke and is kept in a green pail until Fujimoto calls her back into the ocean. Ponyo is angry at her father and escapes with the help of her sisters. Her escape, however, throws nature into chaos. So, Fujimoto and Ponyo’s mother, a giant being named Granmamare who is also the Mother of the Sea agree to give Sosuke a test. If he can prove his love for Ponyo, then Ponyo can live with him and his mother Lisa on dry land for the rest of her life. If he can’t prove his love, Ponyo will turn to seafoam. Lucky for them, Sosuke promises to love and care for Ponyo for the rest of her life.
I don’t know about you but the whole “love” angle between a five-year-old boy and a goldfish is a bit strange. What’s even stranger is the fact that Sosuke now is stuck with Ponyo for the rest of his life. Basically, the story doesn’t hold up when your main characters are five but what do I know about storytelling? Beyond the really weird and kinda creepy “love” story between two children, Ponyo wasn’t horrible. It wasn’t good either. It’s a film that just happens to be there and be loved by others because it was made by Studio Ghibli.
I shouldn’t completely dismiss it, though. The art and animation of the film are still beautiful. It’s no surprise that Ghibli has and always will excel in this area. They’re the only animation house that still hand-draws all their films. There is something so beautiful and intimate and wonderful about hand-drawn animation. It has an Earthy quality that all of Takahata and Miyazaki’s films need and thrive on. I don’t think Ghibli would be quite as popular if their films weren’t hand-drawn. Plus, the hand-drawn elements, for me, reiterate all the lessons that Miyazaki inserts in his films. Ponyo is no exception.
Ponyo is, essentially, a tale about marine conservation. Fujimoto makes several comments about how disgusting humans are and at the beginning, when Ponyo makes it to dry land, she does so while stuck in a glass jar. The obvious toll the humans are causing on the ocean is echoed by Fujimoto’s hatred toward humans and while Fujimoto eventually learns to accept humans, the lesson remains. Humans are killing the ocean and while we’ll never see the moon come too close to Earth or satellites fall from the sky, the ocean is holding a lot of natural process in the balance.
Ponyo is, unfortunately, not the strongest of Hayao Miyazaki’s films and it’s a shame. It could have been the next Nausicaa but was overshadowed by a weird and almost creepy love story between two five-year-olds. Should a child watch it? Probably not. But, if you let your children watch the film, make sure to have a talk about kissing others and marine conversation. Or, at the very least, teach your children to pick up trash so it won’t keep killing fish or end up in landfills.
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